Author: Mary Sheldon

Title: “Is the Shadow Lifted?”

Date: 29 May 1850

Source: Mary Sheldon Papers, Record Group 30/100, Oberlin College Archives

Document Type: Handwritten Pamphlet


An advantage of reading a historical figure’s diary and personal papers is the opportunity to look into the innermost workings of their mind and character. Here is an 1850 example of the short fiction Mary Sheldon wrote. When she wrote on leaflets, she would sign her name perpendicular to the text, then fold the paper so her name was in front. She wrote “L. L. S.” at the end of the story transcribed here, which means she likely read it in front of the Ladies’ Literary Society. The logbook for the Society confirms this, noting that she read it on 29 May 1850. The story concerns a “little blind girl” anxious to die and therefore see light for the first time in heaven. We can only wonder what the critic of the month, the member assigned to comment, thought of it. Other members presented essays with such titles as “Be yourself,” “Natural history of a Bedbug,” and “It is Sad to See a Sister Die.” If the heavy theological language is not symbolic, it reveals how much Sheldon’s literal interpretation of the Bible influenced her writing. Literary Society meetings always began with a prayer, and they met in a church at least occasionally, so religion was a key aspect of the Society’s discourse.


“Is the shadow lifted?”

“Is not the shadow lifted, Mother? I’ve waited so long,” said a little blind girl, one morning in June.

Ellen N. often waked [sic] before the dawn, and wished to leave her bed, which became so wearisome during the long restless nights; but her mother would as often soothe her with assurances, that as soon as it was light, she should be permitted to rise, and inhale the morning air. Once after an unusual night of watching and pain, she roused her mother and expressed in subdued accents, the tedium of the long silence, and wished her, again to tell, how she knew when the night was gone. Mrs. N. thought of her many endeavors to find a comparison, which might enable her afflicted daughter to obtain a conception of light; then she told her, when the night had almost passed away, she could see a bright spot opposite the window on the wall, while all else was in shadow, but gradually the shadow was lifted until all was light.

“Oh Mother!” said Ellen, and her plaintive voice was almost cheerful, with the new thoughts that flitted through her mind, “Mrs. Douglass said, there was a shadow over my eyes, but in heaven that blissful home, there are no shadows, but she meant there is sorrow here, and pain, but there all is happiness. Is that shadow here all the night? Is it that, that makes the hours so long and wearisome? Is it like the shadow that rests on me?” Her mother again in soft accents endeavored to explain not only the shadows of this life, but the sunshine of heaven, to her inquiring mind, until the morning light dispelled the shadows from the room. Ever after this the earliest question was, “Is the shadow lifted?”

The ever hoping mother clung fondly to the thought, that the warm breezes of summer would restore the dear child’s health, but June had come and though the night was far shorter, their tediousness had not diminished to Ellen, only that her mind was often so engrossed with thoughts of heaven, and the glorious light she should there enjoy, where were no shadows, as to make her quite insensible to pain.

A morning came at length to the poor invalid, one long anticipated. It was the morning of her spirit’s release. She had suffered in silence, both to disturb the oft broken slumbers of her mother, until she heard her voice, where the morning question was put, but until unwonted emphasis. “Is not the shadow lifted Mother? I’ve waited so long. –I want you to talk, with me, about the light, and God, and heaven. –I thought last night; that the shadow was not so dark on my spirit. –Christ seemed to come very near and comfort me with such sweet words–Oh Mother I thought I could see him and his face was smiling so sweetly upon me, I [written between lines: I think that the past tense would be better presented] long to go home.” Mrs. N. sat down by the meek sufferer and conversed. “Now Mother sing,” said Ellen, “sing ‘All’s well.’” She did so until coming to the verse, “I shall the King of glory see.” Ellen interrupted her, by repeating several times “Yes I shall see him” and continued “when you come, I shall see you and all my friends.”

Her voice failed. The shadow was lifted. Her spirit stood unveiled before her God.

Oberlin May 29. 1850

L. L. S.

Transcribed by Joanna Wiley.